Evaluating the Economic Impact of Local Food

In early 2013, CRFS and the Union of Concerned Scientists convened economists and local food researchers to examine economic analyses of local and regional food systems. Results will be shared at a May 20 webinar and are presented in a brief publication.

May 17, 2013

Markets for local food continue to grow throughout the U.S., but the economic impact of that local and regional food commerce remains unclear in many communities.

Guidance on conducting such research is outlined in a brief recently released by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment Program, “Economic Analysis of Local and Regional Food Systems: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead.”

“Ad hoc studies of the economic impact of local food commerce have been conducted for at least a decade, and we’ve learned a great deal from this early work,” said Rich Pirog, senior associate director at the Center for Regional Food Systems. “Those of us engaged in this work felt it long overdue to take stock of what’s been accomplished, discuss how best to move the scholarship forward, and suggest basic questions one should consider when commissioning such studies.”

In early 2013, the Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists convened a two-day meeting of economists and local food researchers from across the country. Participants examined how economic analyses of local and regional food systems are currently conducted and considerations for future studies.

“Right now, we have a catch-22 situation,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, agricultural economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Allocating funding for local and regional food systems depends upon understanding their benefits and impacts, but measuring their impacts requires prioritizing local foods research and data collection initiatives.”

Participants in the meeting considered necessary elements of a robust economic impact analysis of local food and identified questions those commissioning a study will want to ask, including:

  • Is the study being conducted to inform policy development, generate interest in investment in local foods, or build an education, research or outreach program?
  • Are the study investigators willing to share the assumptions and methodologies used to conduct the analysis in a public report?
  • Are there pre-existing data or studies representative of your community? If so, how could they be used?
  • Are there partners who can help guide the study, such as an economist at a nearby university?


The Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists will host a webinar on May 20 to provide a synopsis of the meeting outcomes and opportunity for feedback. This webinar targets those interested in building local food commerce infrastructure in their communities or regions. Participants will be able to comment and ask questions, which will inform the continuing discussion on economic impact studies of local and regional food.

For more information, view the webinar and brief.

 

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